Cloth nappy wash routine

You will find that there are lots of different methods of washing, drying and storing nappies, trawling the internet it can seem like a minefield. This is a basic routine that works for us, and it really is quite simple!

It’s just washing at the end of the day!

Washing nappies doesn’t usually require anything complex, just a prewash before your main wash should do the trick, here’s a quick run down of how to wash your nappies:

  • Dry pail – Store your dirty nappies in a dry pail/bucket, with a lid and a mesh laundry bag inside, alternatively you can use a large wet bag. Wash every 1-4 days depending on your stash/needs.
  • Prewash – To get rid of the bulk of the urine before a proper wash it is a good idea to do a prewash or ‘rinse & spin’ cycle first. No detergent needed for this. You can find what works for you with this step – a rinse & spin cycle may be enough, or you may want to do a longer pre-wash. Just make sure that the pre-wash water isn’t recycled and used in the main wash or it defeats the purpose. This prewash should be on a cold setting to stop any stains setting in.
  • Main wash – Wash your nappies at 40-60 degrees on your longest wash cycle that uses the most amount of water, with an 800-1000 spin. Ensure all velcro tabs are fastened and all boosters etc. are separated, so that nothing get tangled up.
  • Optional rinse – This stage is optional, but some people find that doing a quick rinse cycle after the main wash just gets rid of any last trace of detergent. We do put ours on for a 20 minute rinse after the main wash, but I don’t sweat it if I forget to either, it shouldn’t be an essential.
  • Drying – The best way to dry your nappies is on the line outside. If you can’t hang them outside, then a clothes airer will do the job just fine. Bamboo nappies especially, can take a while to dry, so it’s fine to place your airer close to a radiator, but direct heat is not recommended. You can tumble dry your nappies every now and then on a low heat, however do not put All-in-One nappies or any PUL wraps etc in the tumble dryer, as this can damage the PUL (PUL is the waterproof layer of the nappy).


When helping people to start using cloth nappies I tend to get lots of questions about how to wash them, and sometimes a more in depth description is asked for. Above is a really basic run down of our wash routine, which may be all you need to get started, but for a more detailed version, including some troubleshooting please see below:

  • Weaning
    Pre weaning, especially with breastfed babies, soiled nappies don’t really need to be rinsed prior to dry pailing. After weaning, solids can be flicked straight into the loo. Disposable or fleece liners can be used to help with this, just remember not to flush liners down the toilet (even ones that claim to be flushable!)

    During weaning is when things can get a little messy! You can sluice the nappy by holding it in the flush to get rid of anything before you dry pail. But I found for this relatively short period of time, I used disposable liners and “bio-degradable” nappy bags (not perfect, but all in all better than using a disposable). The liners caught most of the poo, and anything left I used a bit of loo roll to scrape it off. As a last resort for a really messy nappy, I would get a bucket of water and hand rinse the nappy (wearing a pair of trusty marigolds!) and then tip the dirty water down the loo. But, whatever works for you!
  • Smelly dry pails
    There is a couple of ways to tackle this. If you are washing every day or two this shouldn’t really be an issue, but if, like me, you are washing every 3-4 days then the pail can start to smell. So I tend to do my prewash on day 2, and then again with the rest of the nappies on wash day before the main wash. So on day 2 after rinsing, we store the rinsed nappies in a wet bag next to the washing machine, freeing up the dry pail for the next couple of days worth of nappies. You could also do a daily rinse and spin at the end of each day if you so wish, but this stage is by no means crucial.
  • Clean nappies smell?
    This could be down to a number of factors

    Maintenance Cycle
    Make sure your washing machine is clean. It is recommended that you run a maintenance cycle on your machine once a month when regularly cleaning nappies.

    Make sure you have the drum approximately 3/4 full:
    The washing machine drum should be approx 3/4 full to allow the correct amount of agitation in the wash, too full and the nappies won’t move around enough, too empty and they won’t get the right amount of agitation. If you are washing daily/every second day, or need to top up the wash, do so with smaller items such as tea towels, baby grows, smaller t-shirts etc., basically avoiding large items like big bath towels or blankets as the nappies may get wrapped up and wont be washed thoroughly. Just be careful of what you put in if you are washing your nappies at 60 degrees.

    What detergent to use:
    There is SO MUCH information out there on what detergents to use, including detergent indexes and all sorts of complex advice. My advice would be to use a non-bio powder, avoiding liquid detergent, and to follow the package instructions for soiled items for your water hardness. You can also substitute a bit of the powder with a nappy cleanser if you wish.
    Start by allowing for a 3/4 dose (your drum should be 3/4 full), and if you need to adjust it for the next wash you can do. This step may be a bit of trial and error for you, you want your nappies to come out not smelling of anything, so if you can still smell wee maybe use a little more, or you can smell strong detergent, use a little less next time.

    Eco washing machines:
    Our washing machine is an Eco version that tends to use less water than others. If you have something similar then you can add more water to the wash by doing the following: After your last rinse and spin, add all the washing to the drum and put it through a rinse cycle with no spin. This will mean that the washing will be nice and wet, and therefore heavy, tricking the machine into thinking there is more in there to be washed, meaning it uses more water. Just to note, if you do this then the drum will appear more like 1/2 full, than 3/4, this is fine, just use the same amount of detergent as you usually would.

    For this machine (Samsung EcoBubble) we use the ‘Baby Care’ cycle, with 5 rinses, 800-1000 spin (no more) and I add the bubble soak option too.
  • Nappies still smelling?
    If all else fails, maybe you’ve adjusted your wash routine and your nappies are still smelling or you’ve bought preloved nappies that smell, then you may need to run them through a few washes to strip them. There is a lot of info out there on ‘strip & sanitise’ methods, bleaching, boil washes and so on, but these options are an absolute last resort, and some of them are not recommended at all.

    More often than not smelly nappies are down to a detergent build up and all that is needed is a few extra washes. I have used The Nappy Lady’s strip washing routine on preloved nappies in the past and it worked a treat. Full information can be found on the link but basically it involves, a prewash with no detergent, a main wash at 60 degrees with a full dose of detergent, followed by another main wash with no detergent. Finally you would put the nappies through a rinse cycle, repeating until there are no detergent bubbles visible during the rinse.
  • Dry nappies feel crunchy and rough?
    Air drying nappies can sometimes cause them to harden up and feel a little rough, simply agitating the nappy between your fingers can soften them right up, or alternatively putting them in the dyer for half an hour (once almost dry from the line) on a cool setting can soften them up again.

I hope you found this guide helpful, please ask in the comments if you have any questions or if you’re having any trouble with your wash routine.

For more information on what you need to start with cloth nappies, click here.

Amy 🙂

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